£1m investment to transform former school into inclusive dental centre

Smile Together CIC is to open a dental centre designed and adapted for patients with special needs, having secured £1m in investment from Big Issue Invest (BII).

The new site, in Cornwall, will open by the summer.

Resonance, which helps organisations to become investment ready and to raise funding, advised Smile Together on the investment.

Smile Together – formed in 2016, and shortlisted in last year's UK Social Enterprise Awards – secured the investment from BII in late 2018, in the form of an unsecured eight-year fixed interest loan, with capital repayments not starting until year four. 

The investment will finance the refurbishment of a former grammar school, which the community interest company (CIC) has purchased itself, into a purpose-built dental centre designed and adapted for patients with special needs, including mental health conditions and autism. The new site will increase local access to competitively-priced and fully accessible dental services, and will see children for free.

Smile Together is an employee-owned social enterprise that currently operates from 13 sites across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, providing urgent dental treatments for people who do not have their own dentist. Alongside oral surgery, children’s orthodontics and treatments under general anaesthetic, the company is equipped to treat children and adults with a range of special care needs. Around 10% of the 40,000 patients they treat each year have special needs. 

Under the separate brand of Brighter Dental, the company also runs five private practices.

Refurbishing the building will provide full disabled access, with facilities allowing patients restricted due to physical size, health and mobility to be safely treated on the same dental chair as all other patients. The new centre will also increase availability of preventative support, education and treatment programmes. An adjoining part of the building will eventually house other local businesses, promoting further financial sustainability for Smile Together.  

Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of The Big Issue, made the investment in December 2018 from the Big Issue Invest Social Enterprise Investment Fund II, a £23.8m fund. Its first fund, SEIF I, is now fully committed, having invested over £8m into 21 social enterprises.

James Salmon, investment director at Big Issue Invest, praised Smile Together’s “unique brand of dentistry with social impact” and said the property would “set an example” for other mission-led dental practices.

Paul Critchley, managing director for Smile Together, said his team is passionate about “enhancing our clinical environments and treatment options for patients – to improve our dental services, exceed patient expectations and enable everyone to deliver above and beyond what we’re commissioned and contracted to do.” 

He continued: “Having bought this wonderful building, we consulted with patients, commissioners and local contractors, and together developed our plans. We are therefore pleased and proud to have secured this investment funding from Big Issue Invest which will help us realise this unique shared vision for dentistry in Cornwall.”

Health and social care social enterprises turn over £1.5bn a year and employ over 100,000 people according to Social Enterprise UK. In total around one third of all community health services are delivered by social enterprises. 

Disclosure: Pioneers Post’s founder and director is a board member at Big Issue Invest.

Header photo: Smile Together staff at work.